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Kasparov Chessmate

Published by Mindscape
Developed by Hexacto
Ruffian Engine developed by Perola Valfridsson
Platform: PC CD-ROM/Palm/Pocket PC
Released - Out Now
Price : £19.99

After not looking at a chess game in a while, we suddenly get to look at two. Yesterday we looked at Fritz 8, a chess game that in many ways has it all. However Hexacto have proved with Kasparov Chessmate that there is still room for other titles. What if you're playing a game on your PC and you have to go out? What if you could take the game with you and carry on whilst you're on the train? Well with Kasparov Chessmate you can do exactly that.

Priced at just £19.99 Kasparov Chessmate will install onto your PC, on a Pocket PC (2002) and on a Palm (OS 3.5+). This makes it an excellent purchase, especially if you own one of these portable devices too. Games can be transferred from your PC to your Palm or Pocket PC (and vice versa) so if you are mid-game when you leave your house or office you can carry on the game whilst you're on your travels, which is an excellent idea.

On playing Kasparov Chessmate for the first time you'll be asked to create a profile. You are given a rating (a virtual FIDE rating) of 1,200. You can also enter your MSN Game Zone name and password here which will allow you to play online games on Zone.com. You don't have to setup a profile as you can play as a guest. However, setting up a profile will allow you to track your progress and see if you're improving. You can have up to 8 profiles so that should cover most chess playing household members. Once you've set up a profile you have a choice of playing a Local game, Online game or participating in the Kasparov Chess Club. The Local game gives you a chance to play against either a human player (in hotseat mode) or against a computer opponent. The AI opponents range from a rating of 500 to 2,300 so there's an opponent here for virtually all chess players. The Online game can be played either across a LAN or on the MSN Game Zone.

The heart of the single player game, and the main feature that makes Kasparov Chessmate feel different compared to the other PC chess titles, has to the Kasparov Chess Club. When you enter the Kasparov Chess Club you have the choice of playing an exhibition game, against a club member, taking part in the championship or reading the championship rules. An exhibition game allows you to pick a game with any of the club's members. In total the club has 45 members. These members are rated either bronze, silver or gold. All of these players are fictitious apart from Garry Kasparov. The club championship is where you attempt to become the best player in the Kasparov Chess Club. To do this you must win, in order, the Bronze cup, the Silver cup and the Gold cup. This is no easy feat and suffice to say I still haven't won the Bronze cup.

Of course the most important factor with a chess game is how the AI plays and how well it scales against us mere mortals. With the Chessmaster games the AI occasionally breaks down when it tries to simulate players with a rank of less than 1,500. Fritz 8 on the other hand has no problems at all with scaling it's AI but how does the Ruffian engine (that Kasparov Chessmate uses) scale? Well it scales the AI very well indeed. In fact it's quite impressive. Even the lowest AI player, Neil, will give you a challenge and push you all the way without resorting to stupid, self-defeating moves. The Ruffian engine is impressive and I'm sure it will be used in many more chess titles to come.

The games in Kasparov Chessmate can either be played in Blitz (5,10,15 minute games), Rapid (30, 60 90 minute games) or Tournament/Classical style (30 moves/30 minutes, 30 moves/60minutes, 40 moves/60 minutes, 60 moves/60 minutes and 60 moves/90 minutes). Allegro timing can be enabled if you wish. This is where you are given a few seconds back for each move in an effort to give you a small amount of extra time at the end of a game. You can also play without a time limit but your game will not be rated. You can use hints in a game (other than a championship game) but doing so will cause your game not to be rated. You can also undo moves but again doing so will mean your game will not be rated.

In addition to the aforementioned modes there is also a training mode. The training mode offers basic instructions and rules as well as tips on what to look for and traps that you should avoid. For the advanced players there are also a series of problems for you to solve. These are basically asking you to create checkmate in 2, 3, 4 and 5 moves which is no easy task. You don't have the encyclopaedic database of either Fritz 8 or Chessmaster 9000 here but you can study an impressive collection of famous Kasparov matches as well as previous games that you've played (if you chose to save them for review).

Graphically Kasparov Chessmate is probably best described as functional. There are no exotic 3D boards on offer here but having said that, it has the advantage of having low system requirements (a Pentium II 266MHz and 64MB of RAM are all that's needed). The game uses a fixed screen resolution of 800x600 but you can choose to run in a windowed mode if your desktop screen resolution exceeds this. There are 3 chess sets available. You have a choice of Staunton Black & White, Rosewood Modern Set and a modern chess set that has a metallic finish. You can choose between a 2D view and a pseudo 3D view and both look OK and are fine to use. You can choose to use either Algebraic or Figurine notation.

Kasparov Chessmate causes no problems at all for deaf gamers. There is no speech content at all in the game and all information is given in text. The screens are laid out in a clean and uncluttered fashion and the text is very easy on the eyes. The manual only contains 8 pages but it manages to explain all you need to know about the game.

Whilst Kasparov Chessmate can't claim to be the best Chess title out there, it's certainly a good one and is one that I would buy. If you own a Palm or Pocket PC then it offers even greater value. The ability to synchronise games between your PC and PDA is a fantastic one. Combine that with the fact that the Ruffian chess engine gives a solid game of chess, which scales it's AI very well indeed, and you have a chess game that's great value for money at only £19.99.

Overall Game Rating: 8.2/10
Kasparov Chessmate provides superb value at less than £20. You can install it on a PC, Palm and Pocket PC and can synchronise games between the systems so you can carry on playing on the move. Best of all though is that the Ruffian chess engine makes a very good opponent.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all. All information is given in text only.

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